PITTSBURGH -- If you thought New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress might be apologetic for being benched at the start of Sunday's 21-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, you would be mistaken.
New York Giants
Oh, he was happy the Giants earned a victory that improved their record to 6-1. He also was pleased that he had a chance to visit with some former Steelers teammates while having dinner Saturday night. But remorse? That simply wasn't on Burress' mind as he left Heinz Field.
Of course, this is a major issue the Giants just can't seem to resolve. Their best offensive player is also their biggest headache, and he continually acts as if this isn't a problem at all. For the record, Burress now has been punished for something five different times over the past four weeks. Two of those disciplinary actions involved violations of team rules -- including a two-week suspension in late September and Sunday's benching for missing a treatment for a neck injury -- while the others involved $45,000 worth of fines handed down by the league, $40,000 of which resulted from his criticism of officials in the Oct. 19 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, the Giants can live with the league hammering Burress for his comments about the refs. What they can't deal with is a star player who continually acts as if he can do anything he wants as long as he produces on the field. This, by the way, is essentially how Burress views things.
"My job is to be a good teammate and to catch passes," said Burress, who caught three passes for 15 yards after entering Sunday's game early in the second quarter. "Everybody isn't going to always see eye to eye in this business."
Burress basically is referring to the situation that led to his benching for Sunday's game in the first place. The short version is he was supposed to receive a treatment Saturday morning that he never showed up for. His explanation is he practiced Friday, participated in every drill and felt good enough about his sore neck that treatment wasn't something he deemed necessary. When he left the Giants' facility that afternoon, Burress figured he was ready for a huge day against the team that selected him eighth overall in the 2000 draft.
But once Burress learned that head coach Tom Coughlin had benched him, he didn't put up a fuss. He didn't gripe or whine. He simply accepted the punishment and figured he would play eventually. As he said, "It was a simple miscommunication. I didn't think I was supposed to be at treatment and they thought I was supposed to be there."
The coaches who are around me every day know what kind of person I am. My receivers coach [Mike Sullivan] and the offensive coordinator [Kevin Gilbride] know who I am. I'm not around coach Coughlin every day so he's not as involved with me.
In other words, there wasn't much else to the story besides that.
Well, actually, there is plenty more to this situation. What's becoming quite apparent is that Burress and Coughlin aren't getting along these days. When Coughlin was asked about Burress after the game, he acted like the question wasn't valid.
"I thought I made a statement about this already," Coughlin said. "The reason that he didn't start was that he missed a treatment on Saturday morning. When he got a chance to play, he was anxious to play and he made some contributions."
When Burress was asked about his relationship with the coaching staff, he made a point of saying, "The coaches who are around me every day know what kind of person I am. My receivers coach [Mike Sullivan] and the offensive coordinator [Kevin Gilbride] know who I am. I'm not around coach Coughlin every day so he's not as involved with me."
When pressed for an answer on whether his relationship with Coughlin has been strained, Burress said, "It's a working relationship."
Though it's very easy to misread people when they talk around questions, that isn't the case in this situation. Burress has never been high on Coughlin's rules -- and there have been published reports that Burress has violated more of those than we'll ever know -- and this seems very much like a clash of wills. In fact, Burress has been making headlines off the field for months now, going all the way back to the offseason when he was lobbying for a new contract that he eventually received.
Now that he's got that five-year, $35 million deal, he knows the Giants have to live with him.
The problem is this isn't just about him and Coughlin. The other Giants are taking notice as well, and they're clearly tiring of talking about Burress. Center Shaun O'Hara chastised a reporter for asking about Burress, saying the Giants' victory should be what the media was focusing on after the game. Wide receiver Amani Toomer was more willing to answer questions.
"It's a bad situation for everybody," Toomer said. "We want him out there but obviously there are team rules to be followed."
That comment brings us back to the question of why Burress can't follow those rules. It's important to remember that the Giants worked pretty hard to cultivate strong team chemistry last season and he was a huge factor in their championship run. He played with a badly sprained ankle for months and, though he did miss many practices, he never let the pain keep him out of the lineup when it mattered. In the process, he gave that offense a confidence and a big-play capability that it sorely needed all year.
Today, Burress is the biggest reason why you have to wonder if the Giants really can repeat as Super Bowl champs. Sure, they've been so impressive in the first half that they're easily the best team in the NFC. But at some point, the continuing drama of Burress might very well be their downfall. And if that does turn out to be true, it's hard to think he'll accept any blame for that, considering he hasn't shown much remorse for his most recent actions.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.